The Mystic Tower, or, Villainy Punished. A Romance.
Publisher: Printed for Kaygill by W. Glindon
Publication Year: 1800
Book Dimensions: 10.75cm x 17.5cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.M894 1800
Published in 1800 without identifying an author, this shilling-shocker set during the Holy Wars tells a tale of romance, murder, terror, and mystery.
One’s first impressions upon introduction to the Sadlier-Black Collection’s edition of The Mystic Tower, or, Villainy Punished. A Romance. most likely will include the frail binding holding together the forty-two time-worn pages, as well as the curious lack of a cover. Upon closer inspection, one can find a few remnants of what seems to be tan leather stuck to bits of dried glue along the spine of the chapbook. This suggests that the book was once a part of a collection of works, bound together for sale by the publisher. Once the first blank page, acting as the cover, is turned, an intricate frontispiece is found to inhabit the reverse. The image of a man and a woman moving away from an oncoming knight is central to the illustration, and is surrounded by detailing of weaponry and armor. Beneath the image the shortened title, The Mystic Tower, is revealed, instead of a caption, creating a sense of mystery around what might be occurring in the preceding scene.
The peculiar intrigue of these yellowed pages continues onto the title page where “The Mystic Tower, or, Villainy Punished. A Romance” is emblazoned in a combination of different fonts across the top half of the page, yet there is no author to be found. Instead, there are a few curious clues that follow, some indicating themes present in the story and others towards the origins of the work itself. Just below the title is another illustration, this time depicting a woman standing in the doorway of a low-ceilinged room with a look of astonishment on her face as she looks down upon a knight emerging from the floorboards. Following this is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth that reads, “’Tis done! The scene of life will quickly close; Ambition’s vain, delusive dreams are fled, And now I wake to darkness, guilt, and horror…..I cannot bear it!…………….” Both the foreshadowing illustration and the ominous quote allude to the drama that is to come throughout the novel.
Tracking down the page, again, there is a note that mentions this book was printed in London for “KAYGILL, at his Circulating Library, Upper Rathbone Place; MACE, New Round-court, Strand; and ADCOCK Charles-street, Fitzroy-square; and may be had of all other Book-sellers in Town or Country.” This indicates where other copies of this work could be found throughout London, specifically mentioning a few circulating libraries at which interested subscribers could obtain the book for sixpence, as denoted in fine print below the message. At the very bottom of the page, the printer, W. Glindon, and the location of his shop, 48, Rupert-Street, Covenrry-Street, are listed. Though the publisher and the location of other copies of the book are helpful hints, the author of the work remains a mystery. The aged, brittle pages that follow hold narrowly spaced text, signature marks that allowed the bookbinder to order the sheets correctly, and a handful of stains from past careless readers, but no mention of the elusive author. There are no handwritten notes, pencil marks, stains, or tears among the pages, leaving no physical clues about this particular copy’s journey through the ages.
The Mystic Tower has no known author, which makes it difficult for scholars to trace the work’s publication history.
The Sadlier-Black collection’s copy of this chapbook is one of three currently recorded copies, and was printed specifically for T. Kaygill “at his circulating library” by W. Glindon (“T Kaygill,” “W Glindon”). Both of these men were British printers and publishers whose careers flourished in the early 1800’s. Though no specific publication date is available for this text, it was most likely published between 1803 and 1807. These dates encompass when T. Kaygill was at the address listed on the title page of the book (39 Upper Rathbone Place, London) (“T Kaygill”).
Many of the primary catalogues of nineteenth-century gothic works are devoid of any information on The Mystic Tower, so there is no record of advertisements for the book or public reception of the work. Aside from being briefly mentioned in Montague Summers’s A Gothic Bibliography,Frederick S. Frank’s The Gothic Romance 1762–1820 holds the most robust assessment of the book. He claims that its hurried “penny-a-line” writing style and plot mimic John Palmer’s Mystery of the Black Tower and ensconce the chapbook as a typical low-brow shilling shocker (Frank 123). This criticism leads scholars to believe that the book was not wildly popular, and was most likely not reprinted or adapted after its original publication.
Narrative Point of View
The Mystic Tower, or, Villainy Punished. A Romance. is written with a third-person anonymous narrator whose identity is never revealed in the text. The narrator adopts an omniscient perspective and offers insights about most of the main characters, while mainly telling the story as if following Matilda along her journey. Holistically, the narration is succinct, colloquial, and typically devoid of characters’ inner thoughts. The sentences the narrator uses are very long and littered with commas, but the language is clear and reads very comfortably. Only occasionally does the narrator hint at how Matilda would feel about a certain situation through well placed adjectives and emotionally connotated verbs. The only time that the voice of the narrator changes is when Matilda reads the letter titled “The Life of Lady Malvina Fitzwalter.” In this interpolated tale presented as a letter, Lady Malvina is writing in the first person and describing how she came to be in the curious position in which the young women found her.
Sample passage of third-person narration:
“The baron and baroness having been appraised of her illness entered at this moment, when the former approaching the bed, Matilda started back, exclaiming ‘did you murder him?’ ‘murder whom?’ exclaimed de Malvern. ‘The dark spirit in the tower,’ returned Matilda; ‘what is all this?’ said the baroness, turning to Clara, who without delay told them all she knew. They made no comments on her information, but commending Matilda to her care, both retired. The simple narrative of Clara, sunk deep in the mind of the baron, his reflections in supportable; the many reports he had heard in spirits that wandered in the ruined tower, and about the walls of the castle, rushed on his mind and in a convulsive agony he threw himself on a couch, groaning most piteously.” (15)
In this passage, Romaldi and Oswena are coming to check on Matilda after her encounter with the ominous knight. She is terrified and is convinced that her parents must have had something to do with the death of the de Malvern men for them to be haunted by such a terrifying being. The beginning of the passage sticks solely to the plot, describing the new baron and baroness approaching their daughter, but quickly switches to the dialogue in which Matilda makes her accusations about their involvement in the tragic deaths of the de Malverns. The narrator then resurges to describe how Matilda is put to bed by Clara, and then follows Sir Romaldi to detail the unrest he faces because of his deep-seated guilt for facilitating the death of the former Baron and his son. The focus of the passage is Matilda’s fear and her conversation with her parents, but when she is not in the scene the narrator is able to shed light on the experiences of some of the secondary characters.
Sample passage of first-person narration:
“Having the misfortune to lose my mother at an early age, I, the only child of lord Fitzwalter, was educated by an amiable woman with the utmost tenderness, and instructed in every branch of literature proper for a female mind.” (22)
This passage comes at the beginning of Lady Malvina’s letter to Matilda, explaining her rather tragic past. She speaks in the first person, using “I” frequently and colloquially, which indicates the intimacy of the contents of the letter and the authenticity of the story being told. Readers are invited to sit in the shoes of Matilda during this break from the established narrative style, since the letter reads as a direct address, which highlights the flashback being recounted in the letter.
The story begins with Sir Romaldi, a poor knight returning home from his tour in the Holy Wars, trudging towards his castle and stewing over his jealousy of his relative, the rich Baron de Malvern. The Baron and his son are still fighting in the wars, and his inner monologue reveals that if they should die before they return from fighting, he himself would be next in line to inherit their estate and riches. While he is secretly wishing that a perilous fate befalls the father and son, a ghostly figure appears in his path, murmuring a prophecy about how his grim wishes will come true. Frightened by the eerie apparition, Sir Romaldi hurries home to meet his wife, Oswena, and his daughter, Matilda.
The story then delves into a flashback, featuring Matilda. One morning she was walking in the woods near the family castle, when a hunter appears from the woods claiming that he has lost his companions and asking if he can rest with her for a while. She agrees and the two exchange pleasantries. It becomes apparent that the young hunter, named Percy, has taken a liking to Matilda, and suddenly realizes that she is the daughter of Sir Romaldi. He exclaims that he cannot be seen with her, due to some deeply ingrained fissure between their families, but that he would like to meet Matilda again in the secret of the night. She, again, agrees, but is deeply troubled by the fact that he cannot meet her father, so after their first rendezvous she tells him she will no longer come to their meeting spot. She adheres to this promise for the next two years by not returning to their clandestine spot, but one evening she passes by and sees Percy walking below the battlement. She realizes how much she misses him, but it is too late because he is leaving to fight in the Holy Wars. To remind him that her prayers are with him she gives him a crucifix necklace and bids him goodbye.
A return to the present hones in on a conversation between Sir Romaldi and Oswena, in which he explains the eerie apparition on his journey home and she replies that he should have the Baron de Malvern and his son slain to secure the prophecy that the ethereal figure foretold. After falling into a terrified stupor, he gathers his resolve and agrees that the foul deed must be done.
Months later, a message arrives at Sir Romaldi’s castle that the Baron and his son have died, and that he is to inherit the de Malvern estate. The small family gathers their things and immediately moves into the new castle. An ominous tension falls over the household as Romaldi walks in, with the minstrels unable to play their instruments and other household servants running in terror. As Matilda is walking around her new home with her attendant, Clara, the servant girl explains to her that there is a suit of armor rumored to wander the halls of the unrenovated part of the castle at night, as well as a particular portrait whose inhabitant occasionally leaps from it to walk to the same mysterious tower, said to house the spirits of the castle. Matilda tries to mitigate the fears of Clara, but one night they are able to see a light moving in the windows of the tower which reinvigorates terror in both of the girls. They send for the family priest, who tells them they are being superstitious and foolish, but all three are then confronted with the large black suit of armor that the rumors foretold. Matilda rushes to her parents to tell them of her terrifying encounters, and asks them if they had some hand in killing the Baron or his son. They assure her that she has nothing to worry about, but they share a moment of concern knowing that these hauntings are very likely due to their nefariously plotted murder.
Tensions and fears settle, and Romaldi begins to bring suitors to the castle to eventually find a match for Matilda. She, however, is approached by a boy that gives her the crucifix she gave to Percy, with the promise that he would return it to her shortly before he came home to ask for her hand in marriage. When her father tells her that he intends to give her hand to a particularly distasteful Lord she refuses and, in his anger, he has Matilda and Clara locked in her room until the next day when she is to be wed. Clara helps Matilda escape her arranged fate through a series of trap doors and tunnels that lead from her room to the outside of the castle, and in the middle of their flight they are met again by the darkly armored knight, and are terrified but are still able to escape the walls of the castle. Matilda and Clara hide in the nearby convent, but are quickly discovered by Romaldi, and are sent a letter demanding their return home. The abbess helps the girls escape to travel to another convent, but after becoming fatigued during their journey, they come upon the benevolent and ethereal Lady Malvina. The girls are showered with Malvina’s compassion and kindness in her hidden underground dwelling in the forest.
One evening, Matilda is presented with a letter detailing Lady Malvina’s mysterious history. Reading it, she discovers that as a girl Malvina was the sole heir to a large estate, promised to be married to her lover, Sir Egbert, and had met a distressed young woman, named Josephine, in the woods and secretly took her into her own care. She lived in pure happiness until her father died, after which Sir Egbert began to act coldly towards her and Josephine left her to grieve the loss of her lover alone, which she later discovered to be the result of an affair between her two closest companions. She tried to go through with the marriage as planned, but at the altar exclaimed that her friends were and love and should be married instead, despite the great pain and sorrow it caused her. Later, when she was invited by Sir Egbert to visit them, it was revealed that he was unhappy with the ill-intentioned Josephine and asked for Malvina’s forgiveness. Having heard the conversation between the former lovers and feeling enraged, Josephine storms in and murders Sir Egbert. Suffering from such deep pain, Malvina moved into her current subterranean apartments to protect herself from accusations that she had killed Egbert and the cruel world that injured her so greatly. Matilda weeps for her friend’s losses, and feels a deep connection with her as she is the only mother figure Matilda has ever possessed.
Soon Matilda and Clara receive a letter stating that the son of Baron de Malvern has survived his time in the war, and a foray outside with Malvina results in the three women being discovered by Josephine’s men. They are taken to Josephine’s court, but Matilda is cast aside, and is taken back to the de Malvern castle. She is left by Josephine’s guard to get into the castle herself and after sleeping outside for a couple days, she manages to sneak into the castle, where she finds her father lying on the floor covered in blood. He is only able to explain that he has slain himself, her mother has been poisoned, and to apologize for his cruelty to her before he dies, and Matilda, horror stricken, is only able to find her way to a chair before she faints.
She awakes to Percy holding her and he reveals that he is the son of the Baron de Malvern and rightful heir of the title and estate. He also tells her that her father sent an assassin to kill him and his father, though he only managed to murder the Baron, and that he sent a loyal friend to watch over the castle, giving an explanation to the eerie suit of dark armor Matilda had seen wandering the castle. Matilda then tells her story leading up to the present, and concludes with her sorrow over the fate of Malvina. Percy takes Matilda to Josephine’s castle to rescue her friend but Josephine, surprised and overwhelmed by the invasion, stabs herself in the heart to avoid capture. They find Malvina in the dungeon and bring her back to safety with them, securing her innocence for Sir Egbert’s death with the king. Matilda marries Percy to become Lady de Malvern and the two live long happy lives together with their children. Malvina remains heavily involved in Matilda’s life, and is able to spend her dying breath in Matilda’s arms.
Frank, Frederick. “The Gothic Romance 1762–1820.” Horror Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, edited by Marshall Tymn. R. R. Bowker Company, 1981, pp. 3–175.
The Mystic Tower; or Villainy Punished. London, W. Glindon, N.D.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. The Fortune Press, 1940.
“T Kaygill,” British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG154036. Accessed 28 Oct. 2020.
“W Glindon,” British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG159720. Accessed 19 Nov. 2020.
Researcher: Olivia M. Walker